Early last year, LinkedIn co-founder and prolific venture capital investor Reid Hoffman called Chris Urmson “the Henry Ford of autonomous vehicles (AV).” The vote of confidence and big check from Hoffman, coupled with a team of deeply knowledgable AV entrepreneurs, has catapulted his company, Aurora Innovation, squarely into “unicorn” territory.
Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital, according to a Recode report. A $500 million financing would bring Aurora’s total raised to date to $596 million and would provide a 4x increase to its most recent valuation.
The company, founded in 2016, raised a $90 million Series A last February from Hoffman’s Greylock Partners and Index Ventures. Hoffman and Index general partner Mike Volpi joined Aurora’s board as part of the deal. Greylock and Index are Aurora’s only existing investors, per PitchBook data. The young business has a lean cap table often characteristic of startup’s led by experienced entrepreneurs able to secure financing deals briskly from top VCs.
Aurora’s C-suite is chock-full of veteran AV workers. Urmson, for his part, formerly headed up the self-driving vehicles program at Google, now known as Waymo. Chief technology officer Drew Bagnell was head of perception and autonomy at Uber and
“Between these three co-founders, they have been thinking and working collectively in robotics, automation automotive products for over 40 years,” Hoffman wrote in a blog post announcing Aurora’s Series A funding.
In addition to the high-caliber of the founding team, Aurora’s collaborative approach to building self-driving cars has attracted investors, too. The company has partnered with a number of automotive retailers to integrate its technology into their vehicles and make self-driving cars a “practical reality.” Currently, Aurora counts Volkswagen, Hyundai and Chinese manufacturer Byton as partners.
2018 was a banner year for VC investment in U.S. autonomous vehicle startups. In total, investors poured $1.6 billion across 58 deals, nearly doubling 2017’s high of $893 million. Around the world, AV startups secured $3.41 billion, on par with the $3.48 billion invested in 2017, per PitchBook.
Though we are just days into 2019, LiDAR technology developer AEye has completed a previously announced $40 million Series B. The Pleasanton, Calif.-headquartered company raised the funds from Taiwania Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Intel Capital, Airbus Ventures and Tychee Partners. And last week, Sydney-based Baraja, another LiDAR startup, brought in a $32 million Series A from Sequoia China, Main Sequence Ventures’ CSIRO Innovation Fund and Blackbird Ventures.